Lesson 0.3 - The seductive power of perfectionism
Hey you! This is the third and final lesson in this Introduction module. Before we dive into the main content and the main modules of this course, I wanted to take a little time to explore the seductive power of perfectionism. Why does perfectionism hold so much power over us?
I’ll be your guinea pig. Let’s use my story to find out why.
My background is actually in research and policy making, who knew? But before that I was an overachieving, straight-A student in high school. I proudly called myself a perfectionist. It felt good to be good in something and my school performance was the only way to get praise and attention from my family. While in college, studying for a Marketing degree, the perfectionist in me blossoms. But I also see the downside for the first time: it stops me from making authentic connections, it makes me too single-mindedly focused, and I have lots of stress and not enough fun.
The marketing world is a competitive and high-achieving environment and I try my best to fit in. The perfectionist in me is happy with the challenge, but there’s another part of me that longs for more fulfilling work. Becoming increasingly frustrated with the superficial marketing world, I choose not to take a high profile internship offer and instead decide to pursue a second degree with the intention of working for a local government organization after graduation. For the first time, I listen to my intuition over outside expectations.
This second degree leads to my first job as a policy consultant for a local government organization. Hoping to make a difference in people’s lives through my work, I quickly find out that it’s not going to happen in this job and through local government. My chronic people-pleasing and insecurity catch up with me and I try to keep them at bay (and invisible to the outside world) through my perfectionism. A few months after starting my job I move to a different city, a city where I don’t know a single soul. At the same time, one of my closest friends moves to another country. Mixed in with the stress, unfulfillment, and disillusionment at work, I am also tired, lonely and depressed. I hit my lowest point.
I follow my intuition and do what’s right for me at that moment: I take a lower-level job, so that I can make space for myself and my personal growth. Letting go of my perfectionism is one of the steps on my personal development journey. I dig deep within myself to find out what drives my perfectionism and I discover that it’s mostly fear. I also do research and read all there is to know about this topic. A realization hits me: perfectionism is the shield I use to stop people seeing the real me and what’s really going on on the inside. When I put that shield down -hesitantly at first- I find a whole new world opening up to me. Then, I start talking to and working with women also dealing with perfectionism and through their experiences - and my own! - I develop the Perfectionist Bootcamp process.
I’m not saying that all of this was easy to do. I know that in a few bullet point it sounds like: “Oh, it just happened”. It did not. But I share this story with you so that you know it’s possible to create a fulfilling work and life without perfectionism looking over your shoulder. And I’m hoping that that’s why you’re here, that that’s your call. You want to lead a life without being held back by perfectionism.
Going over my story you can not only see the seductive power of perfectionism, but also its destructive force.
Like I said earlier, perfectionism was the shield I used to stop people seeing the real me and what’s really going on on the inside. It’s destructive. Perfectionism not only cuts you off from yourself but also from the outside world.
Perfectionism stopped me from making authentic connections. I’m guessing you have a similar experience as well. It’s a lonely feeling.
Like me, most perfectionists have lots of stress and not enough fun. Instead of celebrating our achievements, we’re always worrying over or fussing over this one, tiny detail that needs perfecting.
And finally, perfectionism is a destructive force because it masks other issues like chronic people-pleasing, insecurity, comparison, approval addiction, and having unrealistically high expectations.
And this is just the tip of the iceberg. Perfectionism holds us back in so many ways.
Well… that perfectionism holds you back is something you probably knew already. But, at the same time, perfectionism also holds this seductive power over you.
A big part of my perfectionism story is that being a great student and getting straight A’s in school was the thing that got me love and praise and attention. Most perfectionists have a similar story. As children, we got praised for our looks or our performance. Notice that both of these things are outside things. It’s not who we are. How good we look or how well we perform is something that can be taken away from us. And that’s why perfectionism is so seductive, because it promises us that if we do things perfectly or look perfectly love and praise and attention won’t be taken away from us. But that’s a fallacy. Perfection is a fallacy.
Another reason why perfectionism is so seductive is that it’s widely regarded as a good thing. It’s all around us, in the way we talk to each other and in the way it’s shown in magazines and tv shows. Rarely is perfectionism shown as a bad thing.
Going on a little tangent here, but I have a guilty pleasure obsession with watching the Investigation Discovery channel. If you don’t know it, Investigation Discovery is a spin-off of the Discovery Channel all about true crime. On EVERY single show, literally every program, people talk about each other as having the perfect family, they lived in a perfect house, they seemed to have the perfect marriage etc. And it always makes me cringe, because those perfect people with the perfect marriage end up killing each other. You know, because that’s what happens on a true crime show. All of this to say that ‘perfect’ is how we describe each other. When I’m asked to say something about you, it is the default, the norm, to say you are perfect.
Plus, we’re rewarded for our perfectionism. It starts with getting A’s in school and it ends with getting a promotion at work.
I’m not saying all of this to discourage you. Not at all. But I think it’s important to realize that: a. we’re up against something big and b. perfectionism isn’t your fault. We’re a product of our society and our culture and the way we were raised and so is our perfectionism.
Now, grab your worksheet and work on the exercises. First, I want you to take some time to think about what your intention is with this course. Why are you here? Why did you sign up for Perfectionist Bootcamp? What do you hope to achieve in your work and life after finishing this course? Are there certain areas or issues in your work and life that you want to pay special attention to? How do you want to feel working through this course? How do you want to feel in your work and life after the course? Getting some clarity about your intention will help you navigate the course with more intention and purpose and get you the results you’re looking for.
Second, I want you to make a start with your perfectionism story. If you’re at a loss for where or how to start, use my perfectionism from this lesson as an example. Your perfectionism story doesn’t have to be perfect or even finished, just start. What are the pivotal moments in your backstory when it comes to perfectionism? Go as far back as you need to. Use as much detail as you feel is necessary. We’ll work on this more in Module 1.
And finally, start a daily perfectionism journal. Sit down at the end of each day and reflect on your day. Write down every moment your perfectionism showed up that day. What happened? How did you feel in that moment? How did you react in that moment? Did you give in to perfectionism or did you not? What did your decision-making process look like? I recommend you do this for at least two weeks. This way, you have a big chunk of data to work with and you can start to see patterns emerging.
Okay, now that we’ve put perfectionism in some much-needed perspective and we’ve got you started with the first worksheet and exercises, it’s time to finish up this Introduction module and get to the main content of this course. I’ll see you over in Module 1.